Review by fduboo
"Final Fantasy 2 achieves the goal to which every game should aspire."
Final Fantasy 2 is at this point in my reviewing ''career'' the best game that I have played. Do not misconstrue my score of 10 to indicate that this is a perfect game. Even when taken into consideration that this game is nearly ten years old, it is not a perfect one. However, Final Fantasy 2 is worth so much more than simply the sum of its parts. Why?
Actually, it's hard to describe. First and foremost, let me give the background of the game. It centers on Cecil, the captain of the Redwings of Baron, which is basically like the U.S. Airforce with the traditional Final Fantasy style airships. This young leader has been sent by his King to collect the Light Crystals (which hail from the old original Final Fantasy days) from the villages in which they are kept. After collecting the first of the four crystals by force (the villagers naturally tried to prevent the theft of a priceless and powerful treasure), Cecil begins to question the purposes of his mission. He eventually questions his lord on this matter, and the tyrant strips young Cecil of his post and sends him on a seemingly menial errand with his friend (the Dragoon Kain). The two friends set out to deliver a package to the Village of Mist, but this turns into so much more as the story develops. As Cecil and Kain leave their beloved hometown of Baron, they leave behind the stable lives they once led and they will never gain them back.
When applauding a game, normally I can point to its graphics or its sound and mark the appropriate elements as successful. However, Final Fantasy 2's graphics are functional at best. In fact, they are basically NES sprites with a few more colors (the result of the SNES's expanded palette). Cecil (who also happens to be a Black Knight) looks like a bluish suit of armor with eyes, and Kain looks kind of like a lighter blue insect with a pointy helmet on. The towns are typical blocky buildings and simple representative icons like identical trees and simple blue water. Again, the only thing that really distinguishes the graphics from the original Final Fantasy is the color capabilities of the Super Nintendo. The added shades of blue and green that the 16-bit system lent to FF2 are appreciated, but hardly a monumental improvement. Even the battle scenes (in traditional 2-D glory) are almost the same, albeit with new graphical innovations for spell effects (nice job on Virus and Fire3) and backgrounds that bespeak of a greater epic effort on the part of Square.
The sound is certainly indicative of a superlative effort by the veteran RPG makers, however. The orchestration and sense of scope that is tranferred by the score is incredible. The opening story that I described earlier begins with a determined military march and later changes into a lost, suffocated symphony. This excellently depicts Cecil's emotional change from a self-assured Dark Knight to a disillusioned young man who has fallen from grace. The game continues much along that same page, with beautiful harps and strings illuminating the overworld map track and insistent trumpets plaguing the hyper battle music. The sound effects are complementary and just where they should be- when Cecil swings his sword, it makes a nice metallic sound. The spells also make nice use of the now primitive SNES capabilities. The Lit spells crackle and the Fire spells simmer as your ears take everything in. This has to be in my opinion the best of the Final Fantasy games in sense of orchestration. It doesn't have the audio quality of the Playstation or the memorable Narshe tune from Final Fantasy 3, but it consistently and beautifully sets the tone and pace of the story.
Where else can I look to find such ''perfection'' in Final Fantasy 2? Well, the control certainly has no problems; it sticks to the Square/Enix pedigree of using one button to confirm battle and menu commands and one button to cancel them. The addition of the X button on the SNES controller did allow the subscreen to be accessed easier than before (usually done on the NES with the Start or Select button).
The gameplay itself is as classic as it gets. By this I don't mean that it is derivative; there is line between paying respect to time-honored and successful traditions and blatantly ripping off of them. For example, while Final Fantasy 2 follows the basic tenets of the battle system Square developed several years before, it adds new features that American gamers can appreciate. The battles run on the real-time system, meaning that you can no longer take your sweet time in deciding which commands you will give to your heroes. If you hesistate for too long, you will allow the enemies time to sneak in a few extra attacks- this adds a sense of urgency and immediacy to the RPG genre, in which battles are often viewed as boring chores. Think of it this way: before Final Fantasy 2 was released, most U.S. RPGs ran on a turn-based system. After it was released, a sizable majority began running on the active real-time system. In addition, the heroes may now change which row they are in mid-battle, which influences how much damage they can take and inflict. This is something that wasn't in too many games of the genre at this time, so it augments the already classic system that fits so effortlessly in the whole scheme of things. Otherwise, the game continues its pattern of taking the traditional and improving it immensely. You may now lose gold if you run from the enemies, making campaigns through dungeons a lot tougher unless you always want to be flat broke. Also, your characters will level up a lot quicker than in most role playing games, making the whole thing never seem too tedious. There are very few areas in which you need to spend more than 5 or 10 minutes fighting extra enemies for experience and gold. Each character, ranging from the Dragoon Kain to the Bard Edward, uses their own specialized weapons and may only equip certain weapons and rings or gauntlets. This makes strategy important in deciding which characters belong in the front and back rows. You can control up to five characters at a time while fighting in battles, and you have really no choice in which heroes you are using. Don't worry, however- the game moves along at a nice clip, allowing you to use many different combinations and characters in your quest. A nice feature of the game is that each character has their own special abilities that make them unique. Rydia is a Caller who can summon powerful monsters into battle, and Palom and Porom are twin wizards who can unleash a powerful magical force when uniting their powers of White and Black magic. You won't easily tire of the characters in the game, which brings me to the story.
I set up the story earlier, but I really can't express enough how incredible the story is in Final Fantasy 2. This is truly why I believe this is the best game I have ever had the pleasure of playing. The whole plot builds in a nice layering effects and has twists galore. There are double-crossings, hidden pasts, kidnappings, and wars. Add to all of this a truly evil villain in the form of Golbez and the fact that the story takes place on three different worlds while still maintaining an intimate feel and you have a masterpiece on your hands. Just the mention of names like Rosa, Golbez, Cecil, or Tellah invokes passionate and vivid memories from those who have played through the long story, and this is perhaps the best way of gauging just how well FF2 is done. There are ultimate sacrifices made and true love is found in the most unexpected place. Families reunite and fall apart, and legends are fufilled that were hinted at from the very beginning of the story. As a player, you become so immersed in the tale that you feel that you are a part of the Final Fantasy world while you are holding the controller. From day one, the goal of every video game has been to immerse the gamer in its environment. Final Fantasy 2 achieves this goal the old-fashioned way- not with glitzy special effects or flash, but with impeccable storytelling.
Final Fantasy 2 is a paramount gaming experience for an RPG. It has extra areas like the Sylvan Cave and Bahamut Cave that promise to offer a little more to the intrepid adventurer and the final dungeon, chock full of hideous Bosses and wonderous weapons, is truly fantastic. The whole effort combines to so much more than just a sum. Sure, the graphics don't even match the splendor of Final Fantasy 3, but the game succeeds as an immersive environment and it fits the gamer like a glove. Of all the brilliant games released by Squaresoft, Final Fantasy 2 stands as the perfect merger of an epic tale and intimate storytelling.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/00, Updated 05/09/00
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